Bright Young Things: Elizabeth Svendsen

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Elizabeth Svendsen, proprietor of Walkabout Books, in Xenia, Ohio.

eks5.jpgNP: How did you get started in rare books?

ES: Like a number of other booksellers of my generation, I got started in rare books largely as a result of attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. I had been running a general-interest brick and mortar bookstore for three years before I went to CABS in 2009. The more I handled older and scarcer books, the more interested I had become in the antiquarian end of the trade, but I didn’t know a whole lot about it. Within two months of returning from CABS, I had produced my first print catalog, and a few months after that I did my first book fair. I haven’t looked back.

NP: When did you open Walkabout Books and what do you specialize in?

ES: I sold my brick-and-mortar business (which I am happy to report remains alive and well under new ownership) last fall. I loved the shop, but I was finding it impossible run the everyday business and still make time to seek out and catalog the books I really wanted to work with.  I’m still re-building my inventory, but Walkabout Books has formally been open for business since October 2011. I now specialize in mountaineering, travel, Alaska, polar and other nineteenth century exploration, national parks, and some western Americana--pretty much anything outdoorsy and adventurous. I also carry a fair amount of modern literature just because I like it and always have customers for it.

NP: You formerly owned a brick-and-mortar store, but now only sell online.  Could you tell us a bit about that?  Do you miss having a brick-and-mortar store?  What are your thoughts on brick-and-mortar vs online?

ES: Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I operate Walkabout Books from second floor downtown office space, where I have books on display in two rooms that are open to the public whenever I’m here--which is most of the time. I don’t get a lot of walk-in traffic, but I do get some, and it provides a place for people to come sell books to me. I also do book fairs (six this year), so it’s not all online. I think the ability to interact with and meet new customers--as well as other dealers--is critical to developing a successful antiquarian book business. That said, I am the kind of bookish person who’s happy to work quietly and not talk to anyone all day, so I don’t miss having a full-fledged brick and mortar store.
 
NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) that you’ve handled?

ES: That’s tough. I’m going to cheat and give you two--one book and one non-book. The book was a signed association copy of John Muir’s Our National Parks. I loved it for many reasons--it was visually lovely, it had subject matter that appeals to me, and most of all, researching the association--which turned out to be between Muir and the Merrill family of Bobbs-Merrill fame--was fascinating. The non-book item was an ipod filled with hundreds of audio files of Warren Jeffs (disgraced leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) teaching classes to his followers. That was a whole different kind of fascinating.

NP: What do you personally collect?

ES: Actually, I don’t--at least not in the traditional sense. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this---especially in this venue--but I’m one of those people who just wants the content and isn’t much concerned with edition or condition. Of course, in my business I cater to people who do care about those things and I respect those concerns, but what you’ll find on my personal shelves are literary fiction, mysteries, and a whole lot of mountaineering and solo sailing books narratives. I can never seem to get enough of tales of people toughing it out against the elements in remote places. I have a lot of books about Mt. Everest.

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, which would it be?

ES: Theodore Roosevelt’s Through the Brazilian Wilderness. That would give me the chance to meet TR and explore the Amazon jungle at the same time!

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

ES: The opportunity to learn new things and explore new worlds every day. There’s nothing better.
 
NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

ES: I think it’s in good hands. You just have to look at the archives of this blog to see that. The way we do business continues to evolve and adapt to new technology, but that’s okay. There are smart, creative, and energetic young dealers seeking out new material and cultivating new collectors, and I really believe--and see evidence--that people will continue to love and value physical books even in the electronic age.


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